Why did Asia decline?

And why is it on the way back up again?

My book of the moment, Thunder from the East, presents the worringly convincing theory that a culture of greed was the missing ingredient in China, India, Japan and South Korea in the 500 years or so during which Europe and America’s rise was mirrored by Asia’s decline- an Asia that had dominated the world economy for well over a thousand years. That certainly makes sense if you contrast Confucianism and the caste system with rapacious conquistadors and the British empire.

The book adds that political unity in India and China was probably a bad thing in those terms, but I have another candidate for the greatest influence on rise and decline- a belief in the future.

I think these two factors probably also explain the change in Britain since the decline that ended (?) in the 1970s. Perhaps a better test is how well it explains Japan’s Edo-era stagnation, Meiji-era to 1990s rise, and recent decline.

Perhaps the most interesting difference between the Japanese and this theory is that even during the bubble years I wouldn’t say that there was much of a culture of greed. Obsession with financial security and a better future for your children, yes. Vicious competition for survival between companies at a time when not expanding as quickly as everyone else meant fading away to nothing, yes. Excess, yes- but that was fueled more by expense accounts than outrageous pay cheques. That was perhaps connected to the big difference in Japan, a belief that everyone should be middle class and generally more or less the same. And once the bubble burst they soon went back to the natural thrifty ways that make some of my Korean students call the Japanese stingy.

Even more recently, the Japanese seem to have lost any belief in a better future as well.

So, that explains that major part of world history then! Any other theories?


Why is the playing time of a CD 74 minutes 42 seconds?

“Because its Japanese developers were determined that it be stretched long enough to contain Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a huge seller in Japan” From Thunder in the East: Portrait of a Rising Asia, an interesting book I have a feeling I’ll be quoting more from.

Of course, that answer just prompts another question, which is “Why is Beethoven’s Ninth so popular in Japan?”

Here are some possible answers?

1. “It’s a mystery even for the Japanese why it’s so popular,” Suzuki said. “I think a lot of people in Japan sympathize with Beethoven. He was not a happy person, in constant agony, and that attracts people.”

2. “I’ve heard a lot of theories,” said Kerry Candaele, who is making a documentary on the cultural influence of the Ninth around the world. “Someone told me that it’s the only time that Japanese women are allowed to scream.

“But I think it really has to do with a coming together as equals, of climbing this musical mountain together. In a way, it represents a kind of utopianism.”

Both from this article in the LA Times

Personally, I just think it’s the connection to the New Year. That, of course, poses another question…